Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration's hopes of drawing a curtain on the scandal over a veterinary school operated by Kake Educational Institution have been derailed despite the school's April 3 opening in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari.
Following news reports on the existence of a memo on an April 2015 meeting at the prime minister's office that was attended by officials from the Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal governments and Kake Educational Institution, Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura admitted to the memo's existence. The memo was written two months before Imabari filed an application for designation as a national strategic special zone.
According to the memo, Tadao Yanase, then secretary to the prime minister who now serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), strongly pushed for Imabari to become a strategic special zone, calling it a "matter concerning the prime minister."
The existence and contents of the memo directly contradict the Abe administration's repeated denials that such a meeting took place. In a statement released April 10, Yanase said he had no recollection of ever having met with officials from the Ehime or Imabari governments. But denying the veracity of a document by simply relying on one's memory without anything to back it up is hardly persuasive.
Former administrative vice education minister Kihei Maekawa has criticized the green-lighting of Kake's veterinary school by the education ministry, which had the authority to approve or deny the school operator's plans to set up a new institution. "Pressure from the prime minister's office led to the distortion of administrative procedures (in the education ministry)," Maekawa said. Records at the ministry showed that an official from the Cabinet Office described the school's quick approval as being "in accordance with the prime minister's wishes."
This all takes place against the backdrop of the close friendship Prime Minister Abe has with the Kake organization's chairman, Kotaro Kake. Records kept by the Ehime Prefectural Government indicated that the issue of establishing a veterinary school came up during a meal at which Abe and Kake were present.
The Abe administration, however, has flatly denied Maekawa's claims, and Prime Minister Abe has told the Diet that he was not aware that Kake Educational Institution was among the school operators up for approval in the national strategic special zone in Imabari until Jan. 20, 2017 -- the day the Kake organization was officially given the go-ahead.
The administration takes the position that the Ehime Prefectural Government had been the mastermind behind the scheme to make Kake Educational Institution the operator of the new school, and that the school operator was ultimately approved due to efforts put in by the Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal governments, about which the prime minister had had no knowledge.
The contents of the memo compiled by the Ehime Prefectural Government contradict the administration's claims.
According to the memo, Yanase is said to have told officials from the Ehime and Imabari governments, "Local governments cannot take a back-seat approach of being asked to do this. The minimum condition is that they possess the attitude that they desperately want to achieve this by all means." If the contents of the memo are true, the central government was more enthusiastic about Kake's approval than the local governments were, and abetted the initiation of necessary procedures for Imabari's national strategic special zone designation.
A House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting is taking place today, in which intensive deliberation on the issue is being conducted with Prime Minister Abe in attendance for much of the session. There is no time for meaningless "debate." We must get to the bottom of this.